Angelo Reyes was seen sitting on a monobloc chair in front of his parents’ graves at Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina City early Tuesday and reading Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.”
The book, a biography of the American business mogul who owns pricey real estate, casinos and hotels across the world, was later found by scene-of-the-crime police operatives next to a slug of a .45 cal. pistol that he apparently used to take his life.
Witness Feliciano Recorba told Radyo Inquirer that Reyes, bleeding profusely, uttered the word “sorry” as he was being carried to the car.
“I heard him say ‘sorry,’ perhaps to his son,” Recorba said.
Reyes’ last act left a spatter of blood on his mother’s gravestone, staining an engraved quote that spoke of strength and moving forward.
Part of the quote reads: “Life must go on.
“Time is a great healer. Through the years, the burning flame has subsided into embers that glow bright every time they are fanned by the winds of poignant memories. We learn to live with our hurt and try to make the most of what is with us.”
Reyes’ wife, Teresita, told the Inquirer that an aide of Reyes, named Jett Cesar Abon, saw the former defense secretary pull out a gun and the aide shouted, “Sir, huwag! (Don’t!).”
As the aide moved forward, Reyes said: “Lumayo ka (back off).”
Then a shot rang out.
Reyes, 65, arrived in a Nissan Cefiro at the memorial park at past 7 a.m. with his sons Carlo and Judd, aide Abon, and his driver Rolando Dagang, and headed straight to the graves of his parents Pablo and Purificacion Reyes.
Reyes was his usual quiet self on their way to the cemetery, his sons said.
Judd said he was the one who had brought the book to the cemetery but laid it down after telling his father he wanted to pee. “Maybe he was leafing through it but it was my book,” Judd added.
Arman Hemongala, a security guard at the memorial park who had just begun his shift, saw Reyes reading the book while his aide stood a few meters behind him.
Reyes’ driver was inside the car reading a newspaper and his two sons were standing near the car, Hemongala said.
Boy Lopez, a councilor of Barangay Tanong in Marikina who had rushed to the scene, said the book was taken by scene-of-the-crime operatives along with the bullet slug.
Reyes died of a single bullet wound in the left part of the chest just beside the breastbone. The bullet exited through the back.
Reyes’ sons said that inside the vehicle on the way to the hospital, their father was still breathing but unconscious.
“According to the witnesses, it was self-inflicted,” Director Nicanor Bartolome, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, told reporters at the Marikina police station.
Bartolome said the pistol could not be found, and presumed that the family had taken it. He said the family had also refused to have the body autopsied.
“We may be requesting the family to hand over the pistol to the police in the next few days,” Bartolome said. “But as of now, we will respect their request for privacy.”
Bartolome said a special task force had been formed to look into Reyes’ death. He and Eastern Police District Director Francisco Manalo have invited at least two eyewitnesses for questioning.
“One of them, who was situated 20 meters from the scene, saw Reyes holding the gun near his chest. Then suddenly, gunfire rang out,” Bartolome said.
Lt. Col. Edgardo “Boogie” de Leon, chief of operations of the 10th Infantry Division based in Mawab, Compostela Valley, and Reyes’ administrative chief when he was Armed Forces chief of staff, told the Inquirer that Reyes always carried a pistol after retiring from the military because of threats to his life.
“When General Reyes was still AFP chief, he was the target for liquidation by the Special Operations Group of the New People’s Army because the NPA weakened during his time,” De Leon said.
Reyes’ remains are now at Arlington Funeral Chapels on Araneta Avenue, Quezon City.
Reyes was taken to Quirino Memorial Medical Center, where doctors attempted to revive him.
It was Health Secretary Enrique Ona who formally announced his passing to reporters.
“The doctors tried to revive him but he was pronounced dead at 8:32 a.m.,” Ona said. “He was brought to the hospital at 7:30 a.m. but there were no vital signs. He was no longer breathing and he had no pulse. The doctors tried to revive him for 45 minutes but he died.”
A long anguished wail was heard inside the hospital’s emergency room when Reyes was declared dead by doctors, according to a nurse who asked not to be named.
She said it came from one of Reyes’ sons.
Other members of Reyes’ immediate family, including his wife, had arrived at the hospital conference room by the time Ona announced his death.
“In extreme pain and angry” was how the family staff described the state of Reyes’ wife and sons.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her former chief of staff, Mike Defensor, arrived separately at the hospital to condole with the family.
“My father was a good man! He did not deserve to die like this!” Marc Reyes, another of Reyes’ sons, said when Arroyo showed up.
“He kept on repeating and repeating that. He was angry. They were angry,” said a former Reyes aide.
The aide, who asked not to be named, said Carlo Reyes paced the room in bloodied shirt and shoes while talking into a mobile phone.
‘May didiin kay Sir’
Reyes’ wife spoke with Arroyo and recalled that former military budget officer George Rabusa was a visitor at their house before he appeared at the Senate inquiry where he said Reyes had benefited from a military slush fund, the aide said.
“I even served him food at home when he visited two days before the Senate hearing. He said: ‘May didiin kay Sir (Someone will implicate Sir).’ I did not know it was going to be him,” the aide quoted Teresita Reyes as telling Arroyo.
Teresita Reyes also told Arroyo, as quoted by the aide: “And they say I’m a jetsetter. But I’ve been working since 1967. I have my own business.
“When there were [official] functions [before], do you remember me attending? I didn’t even go because I didn’t want it said that I was [trying to go up the social ladder].”
The aide quoted Reyes as telling her “that he could handle it when he was the one being attacked.”
“But this time, they were involving his family. He was very protective of his people,” the aide said.
Arroyo and Defensor were silent and merely listened to the grieving family members. They evaded the media and separately left the hospital.
Family friends said Reyes had been showing signs of depression since Rabusa accused him of partaking of the military slush fund, and had taken to visiting the graves of his parents.
“He was there the whole day Sunday and then again [on Monday], when he visited with his son Boojie. They stayed there up to 8:35 p.m.,” said a friend.
The friend said Reyes was very close to his mother and visited her daily after work in her San Juan home when she was still alive before heading home to Taguig City.
“He was looking for his comfort zone. He really wanted to clear his name,” the friend said, adding:
“He was agitated. He found it hard to sleep. He would sometimes just stare into the distance. Or he would talk to you but would respond slowly.”
But another aide from the time Reyes was energy secretary said he was in a fighting mood when she last spoke with him after the Senate hearing.
“He said, ‘Weather-weather lang. We are not in the government now,’” the aide said.
Before going to the memorial park Tuesday, Reyes told his wife to take care of Carlo and Judd, their two unmarried sons, according to another aide who had known Reyes since he was a junior military officer.
“You can take care of them after I’m gone,” was what Reyes told his wife, the aide said. “And then he embraced her. He later called from the cemetery to remind her again about this.”
Minutes before shooting himself, Reyes called his wife and said, “Mag-ingat ka, mag-ingat kayo lahat, magpadasal kayo sa bahay (Take care of yourself, all of you take care of yourselves... Have prayers said in the house),” according to a separate account by eldest son Angelo Jr.
The aide said Reyes’ sons had prepared for a long visit at the cemetery because they brought chairs and books with them.
But Reyes appeared to have been hungry, and told his two sons to “buy some Skyflakes (crackers),” the aide said.
When they turned around, the gunshot rang out, she said.
Earlier, park caretaker Lourdes de Ocampo noticed the familiar visitor as she worked nearby.
“I saw him with his bodyguards, but his children were already walking close to the car. I think they were already on their way out,” said De Ocampo, who has been working at the memorial park for 10 years now.
“When I saw him, he was still standing... Maybe he was still praying. Then he gestured for his bodyguard to leave so he would be alone,” De Ocampo said.
She said the bodyguard glanced back at his boss several times as he walked away.
Then the gunshot.
“I ran to where he was... I couldn’t help [carry him]. I’m afraid of blood,” De Ocampo said.
The AFP will extend to Reyes the funeral honors due him if his family wants them, Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr. said.
“Since he is a former secretary of national defense and AFP chief of staff, he is entitled to honors ... notwithstanding the cause of death. But it is the prerogative of the family if they want to avail of the [honors],” Mabanta told reporters.